Any time you have rotating parts on the offensive line -- Korey Cunningham and Marshall Newhouse have had to step in for Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon, and obviously the center position has changed with David Andrews being out -- it's going to be a major question mark.
But I think the wild card in this whole situation is Dante Scarnecchia.
I’ve said this time and time again: Dante Scarnecchia is the best offensive line coach in the NFL. He's been doing it for so long, and his ability to coach these guys and have them ready to play is second to none.
Scar is so detail-oriented. He does a great job in the run game, and he also understands protection schemes and blitz pickup identification.
When I was in New England, we would do 9-on-7, which is a run-oriented drill. He'd do a great job of making sure I identified the appropriate linebacker for the offensive line so they knew who to block. He also has a great balance of pushing those guys: pushing to get the best out of them, but also knowing when to pull back.
They’re so detail-oriented in that offensive line room that you feel good as a quarterback -- going into any game or any situation, with whoever’s playing -- that he’ll have those guys prepared to understand their blocking and protection schemes.
In 2005, our starting center, Dan Koppen, went down with a season-ending injury. Russ Hochstein was always our interior "swing guy" -- he played guard and center -- and I remember Russ stepping in and playing beautifully.
Your leader on the offensive line is your center, because the communication really takes place between him and quarterback. And I thought we didn’t miss a beat when Russ came in, because Scar had him prepared at that position.
That said, the best example I can think of is Stephen Neal. This is a guy who never played high school football, college football or anything like that. He was an All-American wrestler in college.
But we picked him up, and Coach Scarnecchia and the rest of the staff developed Steve into dominant force for us at guard for years to come. I think a lot of his development as a player had to do with the coaching and expertise that took place within that room.
You’ve got to have trust in your guys up front. And a lot of that comes from you having a tremendous amount of faith in the coaching staff to prepare those guys every week.
Every coaching staff has a feel for it. But based on my experience, the Patriots' coaching staff was the best I’ve been around during my NFL career.
If certain pass rushers that were giving us problems on the edge -- we called them "game-wreckers" -- Scar and the coaching staff would always come up with a great scheme to help, whether it was chipping the edge with the running backs or showing tight end presence so the pass-rusher couldn’t get clean run at the quarterback coming off the ball.
So, when we played the Colts and guys like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who were one of the most dominant pass-rushing tandems in the league, we’d always have a plan. We wouldn’t let those guys ruin the game.
I think that’s the genius part of what the Patriots do: They go above and beyond in identifying the issue and doing whatever they can to make sure it doesn’t wreck the offensive plan.
That's what I expect Scarnecchia and the coaching staff will continue to do, regardless of who's out there.
Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.
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